Critical Theory in Advertising Essay

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Critical Theory in Advertising In chapter three of Theories of Communication, Littlejohn and Foss explore the various traditions of communication theory. The tradition that I find most interesting is critical theory because it focuses on the role of communication in the creation of social hierarchy and how communicative “messages reinforce oppression in society.” (Littlejohn 2011) In order to better understand the various elements of critical theory, I decided to apply the variations of critical theory (Marxism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, postcolonial theory, and feminist studies) to advertisements. I thought American advertisements would be interesting because they display both visually and textually, the changing values and structures of society. Using these theories, I will examine the ways ads reinforce social oppression. Marxism is the foundation of critical theory and argues that within a society, it is the economy that determines social structure. (Littlejohn 2011) Marx explains in the critique of political economy, that capitalist systems (i.e. the United States) oppress the working class through profit-driven production. (Littlejohn 2011) Using this very broad definition of Marxism, I believe Marxist theorists would view advertisements as a means of oppression because they promote consumerism, competition, and most importantly, capitalism. Ads target the intangible needs and ambitions of their audience and offer fulfillment through products. I believe Marxist theorists would argue that advertisements cause Americans to become preoccupied in their quest for status through consumerism, creating a dependence on products. This dependence serves capitalist interests while preventing the working class from rising up against the dominant groups (companies). The postmodern variation of the critical tradition is often associated with “cultural

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